"It's a Great Country, Sam..."
Winding down ABC-TV's Sam and Cokie show this past Sunday, Sam
Donaldson recalled a long-ago interview with secretary of state-designate
Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Born
in Harlem, growing up in the South Bronx, getting C's and D's in
school, " Mr. Donaldson quoted himself asking, "how did
you end up Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?"
"It's a great country, Sam, it's a great country" responded
General Powell. "It's a great country" echoed both Sam
Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, as they faced the camera to close the
Earlier in the show, George Will recalled crises that defined successive
decades, and lamented there was nothing today to qualify as a great
Perhaps, there is.
What makes our country great? The people who inhabit it. Why are
Americans so much more successful than the rest of the world? Since
biologically we are no different from of all the static, struggling,
self-destructive, frequently failing peoples of the world, we must
look for reasons in the way American society is constituted.
Everything is in that last word.
Without the Constitution, all the inspiration, the heroism, the
sacrifice embodied in the Declaration of Independence might have
gone down in history as another great idea that was not to be. The
Constitution, with its unique blend of ultra-sophisticated processes
and utter simplicity of language, of grand design and necessary
detail, of abundance in ideas and economy in words, has molded all
who live here.
Under its mantle, the have-not's become have's, and the cannot's
become can's. Ancient hatreds have been replaced with the ability
and willingness to live and work together. People's talents, after
laying dormant in their homelands for centuries, blossom in America.
But while the Constitution has stood by every one of us, we have
not done an equally good job of standing by the Constitution.
The chronicle of the twentieth century may be recounted in terms
of upheavals: World War I, the great depression, World War II, restructuring
of the globe, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War protest,
loss of the gold standard - and the Cold War as a backdrop to all
other occurrences over four decades. Perhaps it was unavoidable
to take liberties with the "supreme law of the land" in
the name of expediency.
But we are on the threshold of a new era. Rumors to the contrary
notwithstanding, we are now truly about to enter a new century and
millennium, even though our impatience caused us to celebrate it
a year too soon.
A great time, many will agree, to take stock and make a New Century's
The incessant din about butterfly ballots, varietal chads, and
"make every vote count" has been replaced by equally disingenuous
demagoguery about a split country and the urgent need for "bipartisan"
At the same time, voices have been heard wishing for a speech that
would go beyond prescription drugs.
Let us see if we can throw all this in the basket: it's a great
country; we need a grand new task; the country is split; we need
So here is the New Century's Resolution: let us restore the three
branches of American government to their constitutional function:
legislative, executive, judiciary. Let us repair the damage of the
last century during the coming one. Let us be honest - no medicare
reform, no patient bill of rights could do as much for the guaranteed
continuing existence of this nation of successful people.
The overwhelming majority of our woes arises from our increasing
disregard for the separation of powers. Some like to blame events
way back in the past, but most would agree that sooner or later
both the executive and judiciary branches began to legislate, and
that legislatures progressively abandoned their obligation of oversight.
No one seems happy with the outcome. And no one is willing to face
the fact that the true division in our country is between those
who wish to preserve the Constitution, and those who wish to replace
it. (Alas, our schools and immigration policies ensure that a growing
mass remains altogether ignorant of that document.) Because those
who wish to replace the Constitution are not willing to say so,
our political debates have become untruthful and misleading.
Adopting the proposed Resolution would render everybody honest
for a start. And what could be more bipartisan than the restoration
of constitutional roles?! But on the off chance the other side doesn't
mean it, Republican control of the White House, the U.S. Senate
and the U.S. House of Representatives offers a brief, historic opportunity
for those wishing to preserve the Constitution to forge an American
The task is as simple as it is monumental: to take note and move
to reverse every act that is blatantly at odds with the Articles
that created the three branches of government.
We have the benefit of exceptional attention paid by Americans
to the events of the last six weeks. Discussions about what is and
isn't constitutional abounded, and righteous indignation erupted
across the land.
Floridians from Miami to Pensacola, Americans from East to West
sent petitions to the Florida House of Representatives. Thanks to
them, we will have the benefit of a tailor-made start in Tallahassee.
There, owing to their constitutional violations, justices of Florida's
Supreme Court await examination of their fitness to serve.